Roadwork moves into fast lane

County more than triples fiscal 2005 funding for resurfacing, maintenance

$37 million allocated for 2006

Efforts focus on northern, central parts of county

July 06, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The recently passed Anne Arundel County budget included lots of popular initiatives - millions for teachers' raises, a new firehouse, an affordable-housing program, with a tax-rate cut to boot.

Yet in recent budget cycles, one unglamorous priority that county leaders have not overlooked is road maintenance. In fact for the fiscal 2006 budget, County Executive Janet S. Owens has gone the extra mile to improve the condition of Anne Arundel's 1,750 miles of pavement, setting aside more than three times the amount of money allocated in fiscal 2005.

This decision comes at a time when a generation of roads is decaying rapidly and the arrival of more jobs and homes is attracting a greater volume of traffic throughout the county.

Riding the wave of a real estate tax windfall, Owens made a big push for the current budget to eliminate a years-long backlog of "one-time" projects, including playing catch-up on road maintenance. In the record-setting $1.3 billion budget, she allocated an unprecedented $37 million for road resurfacing and reconstruction, with $20 million of that coming in one-time funds. That dwarfs the $11 million the county spent on such projects in the previous fiscal year.

Before Owens took office, the county Department of Public Works estimated that it spent about $3 million a year on maintaining roads. But since 1998, when Owens took office, she has spent nearly $70 million on road maintenance. County highway officials said the 2006 funding will help them to make a significant dent in the road backlog and save taxpayers millions in the years to come in maintenance.

"Road construction isn't considered as one of these sexy projects ... but it's something we have to stay on top of," said County Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican.

Owens said she's dedicated to improving roads because they can reshape the look of communities.

"I'm a great believer that if you have nice sidewalks and streets, you'll raise the pride that people have for their neighborhoods," Owens said.

County officials said they will spend most of the $37 million on the northern and central parts of the county, from Brooklyn Park to Crofton. It's likely that roads in rural South County will not be resurfaced because they are generally in better condition and not as heavily used, they said.

"We hope the county will take care of those roads [in the central and north areas of the county] this year, so others can be addressed next year," said County Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican who represents South County.

The list of candidates for rehabbing is in the hundreds. Each road is evaluated by a scoring system for such factors as cracking, potholes, drainage and traffic volume. Every year, a third of the county's approximately 6,000 roads are evaluated.

County leaders say that politics plays no part in determining the priority list, although Owens said she has told the Department of Public Works to concentrate some of the efforts on improving sidewalks.

"We can't turn our backs on the older streets and neighborhoods," she said.

Another factor plays into whether a decaying road will get resurfaced: The Department of Public Works avoids projects where utility companies are set to chew up roads to lay electrical and fiber-optic cables.

"It's not just pick a road and mobilize," said Robert Loomis, assistant director for the department.

Reilly said he agrees with that approach, but he expressed frustration that the Crofton Parkway, a loop road that runs around Crofton County Club, has gone unattended. The Department of Public Works, however, has put the parkway on its maintenance list for this year.

Owens and public works officials are cautiously optimistic the $20 million in "one-time" funds will help the county repair roads that were built during a wave of development in the late 1970s and early 1980s. If they can get to those roads now, they said, the necessity of rebuilding them could be delayed for years.

"You are paying a little bit now, but you are saving a ton in the long run," said Lou Matassa, resurfacing and reconstruction project manager.

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